Human Flower Project
On the Trail of the Wild Cardabelle
A thistle—now endangered—was the trusted weatherman of the Mejean.
Cardabelle—in plaster—at Pezenas
Photo: Julie Ardery
We rubbernecked all the way to Olargues, hoping to spot the cardabelle, legendary wildflower of the limey “causses” of Languedoc. These thistles, we had heard, were nailed to the doors of farmhouses and barns as simple barometers here. The points of the plant’s star, we were told, curl inward when foul weather is on the way.
As we drove up into the mountains, the skies got darker, lower, until one needed cardabelles less and umbrellas more. A baker in Olargues sold us a fine loaf of olive bread, but when we asked after the cardabelle, she pointed us skeptically toward the high road, into the storm.
Only farther east, in Pezenas, did we find the elusive flowers, these made out of chalk and for sale at the pottery shops and a boutique in this artesan town. Today, the cardabelle (also known as Chardousse and Pinchinelle) is an endangered species. Cutting them, even for the purpose of weather forecasting, is forbidden.